Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The 1860's at David Davis Mansion

David attended a little living history this past weekend and on Saturday afternoon I brought the children out to visit him. I like doing events this way; it is much easier for me to dress the children at home and bring them out for a little while than to set up camp and stay the entire weekend. When your children are small and you are less than passionate about being at an event, this is a good arrangement.

David Davis was an Illinois judge and a friend of Abraham Lincoln. His estate has been preserved and the c. 1870's home he built for his wife still stands, lavish and exquisite in the slightly gaudy Victorian way. The living history has been held on the grounds the past few summers and it is a really nice location for an event.

The kids were happy to run around and played with several other children who were there. The only bad thing was the weather, with the heat index towards 100 and high humidity. I felt like I was breathing in steam.

I mentioned being less than passionate, and I was. Borderline apathetic with slight hostility? I don't know. Perhaps it stemmed from being sorta depressed I was not at the Louisville Jane Austen Festival, which was taking place the same weekend. It's one of those "us vs. them" sort of things. I blame David since he and the Civil War is "us" and me and any other era is "them"; at least, it seems to be that way when I think of it. Probably stemming from many years of forcing myself to go to 1860's events and wearing myself out. I hate feeling restless at an event but I was. I was able to talk to some people I hadn't seen for a while but otherwise the whole event felt flat. I was happy to go home. Satisfied with the few photos I took of the kids. I did enjoy touring the mansion, which was air-conditioned.

I  really hate feeling this way. On one hand I feel snobbish that I don't enjoy the event when so many people have put so much work and time into preparing it. On the other hand, I don't want to pretend to be happy with something I am not happy with. The problem isn't really the event, it's me. It's because I went knowing I wouldn't really like it, and so it's my own fault I was less than satisfied. I went knowing the only thing I would have to do with our group is to walk around and follow my kids and make small talk with people.

I have found I have to look at events like these this way: I go to talk to people, not to have an experience. I go to educate others, if I can, by how I appear and how I can converse with them - not to educate myself or have a "magic moment". I go to make my kids happy and to give myself a chance to see them dressed up in their period clothes so I can take pictures. I like taking pictures at events. It's farby to whip out the digital camera, but when a lot of other things may be farby, well,  I don't mind the camera so much.

I know this whole post will sound redundant since I've talked about this before but I guess I have not come to any sort of permanent conclusion about mainstream Civil War reenactments yet. Or even progressive reenactments. They all usually feel like a lot more work than they are worth.

Maybe I shouldn't be a reenactor.

I think that might be it. I love research. I love the history of the various eras I dabble in. I love reading as much as I can about those eras. I love the process of creating clothing from those eras. I love wearing the clothes and seeing my family wear them! But I don't like reenacting.

You know what I like? Dressing up and going out to a pretty place for photo shoots, having a good time with friends while we do that and if some sort of museum or antique shop or historic site is convenient to go to whilst in costume that is fantastic. I love that!

Maybe I am becoming more of a costumer instead of a reenactor. I find I am more in line with the costuming philosophy than the reenactors philosophy. But then I feel like I am "lowering" myself by being a costumer instead of a reenactor. Then I feel snobbish that I feel that way, because really, costuming and reenacting are really two totally different things, though some people definitely successfully combine the two.
This one cracks me up. . .they definitely look snobbish. . .
Well, the main point of my going to the mansion was to see Blake in the new sack coat I made for him. I didn't actually get to see him, since he left before I got there because the heat was so oppressive, but here is a picture of him and his wife by the front door. He looks really good and I had a lot of fun making his sack coat. I'll have a post about that a little later.

Now back to modern life and the county 4-H fair. Maybe I can squeeze in a sewing project this week for the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge "White". I have a few ideas.



  1. I know the feeling. I struggled with reenacting because I always felt, well, judged. I like whipping out my camera, or lifting my skirts out of the mud, or just generally being myself: all of which earned me no fun and a few long lectures about "historical accuracy." I don't feel any less worthy because I've taken up costuming. It's a whole different genre and I enjoy making pretty clothes for the sake of pretty clothes. Your clothing is beautiful and exceptionally accurate as well as functional! I always love seeing what your family is wearing. It's lovely seeing everybody participating in a hobby together. I wish my family was so cooperative! :)

  2. I agree completely - costuming is completely different than reenacting. It's not really fair to compare the two. Like you said, a whole different genre.

    I think I feel some sort of guilt about making pretty clothes *just* to make them. . .like I have to have an "excuse" to make them, such as reenacting/living history.

    Where that guilt comes from, I have no idea. It's something I have thrust upon myself, probably. I need to get over it.

    My frustration with reenacting is not feeling judged so much (although I have certainly experienced that before!) but just a lack of things to *do*. And when I do find something to do, something to focus on and pour passion into, inevitably my efforts are ill repaid and I become embittered. . .i.e. "it's not worth it".

    I don't feel this way about other eras though. . .maybe Civil War reeancting in the past has been too much, too often. Maybe I have outgrown it. :(

  3. have found myself with similar feelings this last year.. love the people love the clothing but feeling lost with nothing i can actually "do" there is only so much 'shopping' one can do especially with really limited sutlery choices. sigh.. its a relief to know that others encounter these same questions - i was feeling very alone in this. havent figured out an answer to it tho.....

  4. I think you can look at costuming and reenacting as a continuum. I'm more toward to the costuming side, and I say, come to the dork side, we have (anachronistic yummy) cookies!

    (I also have a bad case of Friday brain, so YMM definitely vary...)

  5. I've never done Civil War Reenacting (always wanted to try, just never got the chance). But I've been a museum educator for years, which is sort of like the way you describe reenacting in the sense that you are there to teach and facilitate an experience for everyone else.

    For the first 10 years or so, I loved it. I got a huge return on the interaction with visitors. But as I became more knowledgeable about my particular period of history (1850s), I found I enjoyed giving tours less.

    It was frustrating to condense complicated concepts into a 45 minute format. And many things are impossible to explain properly to people with a 21st-century mindset.

    That all sounds terribly snobbish, I know. But you said it very well -- it's not them, it's me. I definitely grew out of giving tours (plus the repetition drives me crazy).

    I find in my "old age" I am much more inclined to work behind the scenes -- researching, planning, caring for collections, curating exhibits, writing tours for other people to give!

    You are so talented as a costumer and researcher. And that's an essential part of history presentations. No one can do everything, so why not do what you love (and are really, really good at)?

  6. Man, I am glad to hear I am not alone in feeling this way!

    E.A.U. - I really appreciated your words. I could really identify with a lot that you shared, especially concerning boredom with repetition and a preference for working behind the scenes.

    There is so much information that is fascinating to unearth. But as you said, it is hard to share that when you have limited time for presentations, or even (such as in my case) answering questions spectators may have at events. . .which inevitably fall along the lines of "what makes your skirt stick out?" and "aren't you hot in all thsoe clothes")

    And those questions are very valid to the people who ask them, and are important to answer in an educated fashion, but still - it is hard to be "stuck" sharing at that level, when sometimes I feel I have long since "passed" (not vertically, I like to think, but horizontally) that point and would like to delve deeper into more focused and detailed studies.

    There is really no easy answer, I think. But it's nice to know others have experienced similar feelings. It's like I am where I can say "Okay, I have some clothes, I have some knowledge, now, what do I do with it?"

  7. I feel you. I don't actually sew that much, but my experience with attending reenactments in my area (Saratoga Battlefield and Fort Ticonderoga, basically) through my childhood and youth as a spectator was that women mainly sit and talk to each other while strangers stare at them, and they occasionally throw out factoids to the audience, which has never attracted me. Earlier this summer I did have a good experience doing a little scene with a friend, but I don't really see myself getting into the reenacting circuit.

    That's why I go with the term "historical recreationist". The recreation is the point of the exercise, for me - I can wear it as part of an educational experience for other people or I can be just hanging out with friends all dressed up, I'm fine either way. No expectations! It's perhaps unfair of me, but the term "costumer" seems to have so much baggage - and why apply the same term to people trying to make historically accurate pieces and people making outfits that just need to look good from the audience/camera?

    OTOH, "historical recreationist" sounds really precious and academic and isn't very popular, so it's not the greatest choice. Still, I like splitting things into threes instead of twos! More choice, more nuances.

  8. Lots of interesting thoughts here! It is so wonderful to feel there is a group out there who feels the same. It almost makes me feel that there needs to be a "Reenactors Annonymous" or something to hash out these frustrations! haha!

    I don't think you're snobbish at all. I think you've just come to a realization and you're being honest with yourself about it. I imagine it can be frustrating to have an "us" vs. "them" situation, but it is certainly a blessing to have a husband who shares your love of history. Perhaps you can appeal to his history-loving side and share events?

    Like E.A.U., I prefer the behind-the-scenes stuff. It's much less draining for me as an introvert. :-)Half my life has been in museum work and while at first I did the tours and costumed historical interpretation, I feel so much more fulfilled when I can do things behind the scenes - especially creating exhibits. The research and creative process is so awesome and I can choose not to talk to anyone if I don't want to!

    You know, I think you might take some inspiration from a fellow blogger. Samantha at I feel successfully blends the "costuming" aspect with reenactment. From what I understand she is studying costuming at university, but uses her sewing skills and love of research to create beautiful historically accurate clothing of all different time periods. (Rennaisance, Rev War, War of 1812, even Civil War)

    She has an interesting post on "When Costumes become Clothing"

    And it may have been Samantha, but there was a great post where her Rev War unit went to an elementary school and had rotating learning stations. She taught a mini lesson on textiles of the time and made it a hands-on feeling of the textiles, explaining about them, and asking the students questions - really exciting stuff! I feel that this is a wonderful use of acquired historical sewing skills - to be able to share it in an obvious educational environment. (I wish I could find the post! I'm pretty sure it was Samantha.)

    Anyway, sorry for the long-windedness. I always feel for others who experience that reenactment frustration. I hope you can come to a place of peace about it. I think you do a wonderful job of sharing your talents, projects, and inspirations via your blog. I'm sure many people benefit and learn from that too. I know I do! :-)


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!